Review Update: ‘Greenlights’ by Matthew McConaughey

Back in October, 2020, I mentioned Academy Award-winning actor Matthew McConaughey’s memoir that celebrates his 50 years on Planet Earth, his quests for Hollywood success, his family, and the life lessons he has learned along the way. I wondered then if I would be able to get a review copy and write about it here in my long-running but little-known book review blog.

I was not able to get a review copy from Crown Publishing Company, even though several other publishers have me on their reviewers’ lists. Another practitioner of book reviews, however, recently took pity and mailed me her copy a few days ago. (Here is what I wrote about Greenlights back in October.)

I can tell you now that Greenlights is an unusual and often entertaining memoir. Fans of the actor will find plenty to like in this book, including: rough-and-tumble tales from his childhood; how a role in the low-budget movie Dazed and Confused helped him make it through the fearsome gates, moats, and alligators of Hollywood; and the life and business lessons he has learned while dealing with the advantages and disadvantages of success in the entertainment world.

The book also should please many of the people who believe successful celebrities must use their fame and wealth to help promote and support worthy causes. In McConaughey’s case, he is now serving as the City of Austin’s first Minister of Culture, “working to promote a culure of competence and shared values across cities, institutions, universities, academics, and athletics.” He is also a “professor of practice” in the Radio-TV-Film Department at the University of Texas at Austin. And he and his wife Camila founded the just keep livin Foundation, “dedicated to empowering high school students by providing them with the tools to lead active lives and make healthy choices for a better future.”

Central to McConaughey’s thinking is the concept of “greenlights.” Sometimes life gives you easy paths to cruise through, and sometimes there are red lights that flat-out stop you. When you hit a red light, you need to quit just staring at it and obsessing over it. Instead, you must find some ways to make your own “greenlights” and keep going.

There also are some timely reflections and introspections in this book. brought forward by major events in 2020, including the murder of George Floyd and the “social justice revolution” that followed, plus “a red-light drama called COVID-19.” McConaughey writes: “Both of these red lights forced us inward, literally quarantined us to search our souls for a better way forward. In doing so, we took inventory of our lives and who we are in them–what we care about, what our priorities are, what matters.”

He believes that “if we work individually to make the justified changes for a more value-driven and righteous tomorrow, the red-light year that 2020 was will one day, in the rearview mirror of life, inevitably turn green, and perhaps be seen as one of our finest hours.”

Si Dunn

THE MILLI VANILLI CONDITION: Faking it, without much consequence, in the 21st century – #bookreview

 

 

The Milli Vanilli Condition

Essays on Culture in the New Millennium

Eduardo Espina

Arté Publico – paperback

 

“When we see Justin Bieber, we do not see a person. We see a haircut,” says Uruguayan poet and writer Eduardo Espina in this insightful and entertaining collection of 13 essays that delve into various aspects of pretending, faking, plagiarizing and even committing serial falsification of events, credentials or objects.

“The same [haircut] thing happens when we come across photographs of Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale, two of the best paid and most famous soccer players in the world. Or the unmistakable image of North Korea’s supreme leader, Kim Jong-un, whose haircut completely characterizes the isolated nation and its ideology, at least regarding its male population.”

With the right haircut, Espina contends, you can fake inclusion in, or affiliation with, a certain trend or movement in society and even get others to follow you.

The Milli Vanilli Condition gets its title from the infamous German pop duo that won a 1990 Grammy for “Best New Artist” and had it taken away a few months later after investigative reporter Charles Alan “Chuck” Phillips uncovered that the two singers merely had lip-synched their song. Other vocalists had recorded the lead tracks.

Eduardo Espina, author of numerous other books, now lives in College Station, Texas. With help from the book’s English translator, Travis Sorenson, Espina brings a refreshing South American and particularly Uruguayan perspective to his observations of modern-day life in the United States and elsewhere and the apparently fading consequences for pretending to be someone or something you are not.

Si Dunn

 

The Aspiring Actor’s Handbook – Good mentoring advice from performers who have succeeded – #bookreview

The Aspiring Actor’s Handbook

What Seasoned Actors Wish They Had Known
Molly Cheek and Debbie Zipp
(Betty Youngs Books – Kindle)

This is not–repeat, not–just another book on how to create a good headshot and resume to wave around so you can attempt to attract a Hollywood or New York talent agent.

The Aspiring Actor’s Handbook offers up information and advice that a number of now-successful actors wish they had received when they were first struggling to get started in Los Angeles or New York.

Molly Cheek and Debbie Zipp are both experienced actresses with considerable movie and television experience. They know the complicated insides of “the business,” and they have collected wit, wisdom and useful how-to advice from several other successful actresses, as well.

“We are the seasoned professionals who have experienced everything in this business except major stardom, and we are here to tell you (and your doubting loved ones) that there exists a wide middle ground between Starving Artist and Angelina Jolie,” the two authors state. “Yes, it IS possible to have a rewarding and balanced life as a working actor. You can make a very nice living wage and have a normal middle class life without anyone outside of the business knowing your name.”

They describe themselves and their book’s contributors as “people who have something realistic and constructive to share with you about becoming an actor. While we…refer to ourselves as actresses, the insights we share are universally applicable to all aspiring performers, male and female. We have been in your shoes and have made our living as actresses for over 30 years. There are tons of books, websites and blogs out there on the craft of acting, auditioning techniques, how to get ahead and the like, but there is so much more to know about creating and sustaining a full life as a working actress [or actor]. And who better to shed some light on this career than women who have lived it?”

Indeed, the personal how-I-made it tales from the authors and their contributors are both entertaining and instructive. Many of them arrived starry-eyed from small towns, ill-equipped or not adequately trained to try out for movie, television or theater careers. Yet they managed to persevere, through a combination of a combination of luck, bluster, faith in themselves, and fortuitous timing.

“When we look back over our careers, what we missed most was a mentor; someone to tell our 18-year-old selves just what we are going to tell you,” the two authors point out.

“Teachers, agents and coaches just aren’t enough to fully arm you to face the mighty challenges in front of you. You need encouragement and real-world perspective from women who have been there; women who came to an acting career from different parts of the country, from different backgrounds, with different stories who have one thing in common: their love for acting and their ability to have been able to make a livable wage in their chosen profession. The tips, advice, and personal stories we share with you are heart-felt and freely given out of love and respect for the pursuit of your dream. In that spirit, we share all that we know and what we wish we had known.”

Their book offers six chapters rich with “mentoring perspective,” covering such topics as the various “handlers” you will encounter (managers, agents, publicists, lawyers and others), sex in the workplace, managing your sporadic money, and maintaining personal integrity “in the great unknown of show business.”

The chapters are:

  •  Chapter 1: Your Strongest Asset: You
  •  Chapter 2: You, The Product
  •  Chapter 3: You, The Person
  •  Chapter 4: The Lows: Surviving the insecurities of show business and learning to separate performer from the person
  •  Chapter 5: The Highs: The importance and joys of the acting profession
  •  Chapter 6: Be Ready for Your “Break-Out” Moment

Los Angeles and New York remain America’s shining beacons of hope and challenge for young, ambitious performers seeking stardom. Yet those cities are not the only places, of course, where movie projects, theater productions, and television shows now seek talented performers and crew members. Much of the information in The Aspiring Actor’s Handbook can apply to your acting aspirations and acting career no matter where you live and perform.

— Si Dunn

BOOK BRIEFS: Movie Stunts, Famous Bandits and a World War I Regiment – #bookreview

Cowboy Stuntman

From Olympic Gold to the Silver Screen
Dean Smith with Mike Cox
(Texas Tech University Press – hardback, Kindle)

Dean Smith won an Olympic gold medal in the 400-meter relays at the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki, Finland. Then the 20-year-old returned home to Northwest Texas, where he had been a rodeo cowboy. Later, he dropped out of the University of Texas at Austin, spent time in the Army and briefly played professional football with the Los Angeles Rams. But he dreamed of working in Western movies. He finally got his break in 1957, in Dallas. He met up with a friend from Oklahoma whom he had known as Jim Bumgarner. Bumgarner now called himself James Garner, and he was the star of a new TV show, “Maverick.” Garner got Smith into the Hollywood movie and TV stunt business. More than 50 years later, Smith’s entertaining memoir covers not only his rural Texas years but his long career “doubling” in risky action scenes for some of Hollywood’s biggest names, including Roy Rogers, Robert Redford, and even Maureen O’Hara.

***

Butch Cassidy: The Lost Years

William W. Johnstone with J.A. Johnstone
(Kensington Books – hardback, Kindle)

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid most likely are dead — very dead — by now. But rumors persist that the two famous bandits survived a shootout with Bolivian soldiers after they stole a Bolivian silver mine’s payroll in 1908. Then they escaped back to America and disappeared. Prolific author William W. Johnstone has taken those rumors one step further and created a clever, pleasant novel set in 1950. It features a dedicated young Pinkerton detective who happens to be the son and grandson of Pinkerton agents who tried and failed to track down the famed bandits. But the book’s key character is an 85-year-old West Texas rancher who can spin a very good tale–and who might be, or may not be, be Cassidy himself.

***

They Called Them Soldier Boys

A Texas Infantry Regiment in World War I
Gregory W. Ball
(University of North Texas Press – hardback)

Historian Gregory W. Ball’s new book is a well-written study of the 7th Texas Infantry Regiment, its combat experiences in France in World War I, and what happened to many of its soldiers after they returned home to Texas n 1919. One of the Texas National Guard regiments that made up the U.S. Army’s 36th Infantry Division, the 7th Texas  took part in some of World War I’s biggest battles. “What those soldiers experienced, what they felt, and how they expressed themselves to their loved ones back home,” Ball writes, “is important to the history of World War I and of Texas, as their experiences form an important, albeit neglected, part of the Texas military experience.”

Si Dunn